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Long time no see: Relearning face-to-face networking

October 12, 2022 - 13 min read


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Where can you network offline?

9 tips for networking like a pro

Networking isn’t all work

It’s difficult to replace a firm handshake and a smile. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, many professionals did exactly that. Through LinkedIn cold-connects and virtual coffee breaks, people looking to expand their connections found creative ways to do so when in-person interactions weren’t an option.

But these workarounds are limited. Professional conferences, for example, don’t have the same luster when conducted online. There’s no opportunity for spontaneous conversation, they’re prone to technical difficulties, and time zone differences mean you’ll probably have to join either very early or very late. 

It’s no surprise that our professional networks shrunk during the pandemic — sometimes by as much as 16%. Maintaining our connections online was simply too difficult.

If you’re no longer used to in-person networking, this transition might be intimidating. After spending so much time alone, you might feel nervous about shaking hands, making eye contact, and wearing dress pants (instead of those comfy PJs). 

Plus, building relationships is a lot of work. If you’re at all an introvert, you might not want to put yourself out there for the sake of network connections.

But this could be a great next step on your career path. Thankfully, we can rebuild our professional connections now that it's becoming safer. Your networking skills can lead to surprising new opportunities, whether it’s a referral for a new job or a meeting with your next business partner.

Maybe it’s not quite like riding a bike, but re-learning in-person networking skills is totally possible. Here’s our refresher course on how to network in person.

Where can you network offline?

Your best bet for offline networking is attending a designated networking event. These are planned gatherings for professionals to meet, chat, and connect.

These events can take many forms, but here are a few of the common ones:

1. Industry conferences and trade shows

Organizations and industry associations organize large conferences for groups of people working in a particular field. These events often feature workshops, seminars, and even free food. Larger events of this type will attract people from around the world, though some are limited to national, state, or local regions. 

Conferences are a great place to meet people in your line of work from whom you can learn a thing or two. If you’re not looking to splurge, find a conference in your area or see if your workplace offers stipends or other opportunities for attending conferences.

2. Happy hour meet-ups

You’re a busy person. You don’t have enough time to chat with your colleagues, let alone have coffee with someone outside of your company. 

That’s why many companies, departments, or professional associations will set up a day to clock out early and head to a bar or restaurant. In this casual environment, you can connect and get to know other professionals on a personal level. This will ultimately strengthen your professional relationship.


3. Career fairs

Many colleges and universities organize events to help student job seekers connect with employers. Companies are there to meet prospective talent, so this is a good chance for you to hand them your resume and make a good first impression before applying online. You’re more likely to land an interview if they’ve already met you and know you’re passionate.

4. Breakfast or lunch meetings

Everyone has to eat, so why not use food as a networking opportunity? Try reaching out to a colleague and meet them for a meal before work or during your lunch break.

Sometimes, event organizers may book a hall, organize catering, and invite industry professionals to come together and have a meal. They may also invite a keynote speaker or run a workshop during the event, giving you a good conversation starter while you eat.

Knowing how to network with people isn’t a natural skill — but having a nice lunch together helps ease some of the tension.

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9 tips for networking like a pro

You’ve suited up, put on your game face, and you’re about to attend a networking event. The obvious question now is, “What does successful networking look like?” Here are some networking tips to get the most out of your experience.

1. Set a goal for yourself

Is there someone specific you want to meet? Are you hoping to learn about a particular company? Or do you need help with your job search?

Setting a goal for yourself will help you attend the event with confidence and focus. And afterward, when you get home, you can measure success based on whether you achieved what you set out to.

2. Know your worth

Humility is a noble trait, but don’t sell yourself short. Make sure you can clearly articulate your skills and what you can bring to a team or prospective client. Try to work them into a clear and concise elevator pitch. This will show people why they should choose you over the competition.


3. Plan your conversational icebreakers

Whether you’re meeting someone one-on-one or attending a large event, talking to strangers is intimidating. In a professional setting, it’s important to consider personal boundaries when it comes to topics of conversation. To avoid feeling awkward, think about what you want to say beforehand. 

You can start by introducing yourself and shaking their hand or offering a sanitary elbow bump. Then, you can:

  • Start with a compliment. Saying something nice can start the conversation positively. Keep it professional, though — you never want to make someone uncomfortable.
  • Ask them questions about themselves. Why are they here? How did they get into the industry? What do they think of a recent trend in the business? Asking good questions can prompt interesting follow-up discussions to keep the conversation going.
  • Be a fan. If they’re a big player in your field, mention something specific about their work that you appreciate. Perhaps they wrote a book you enjoyed, gave a great presentation, or accomplished something notable in your field. It’s okay to gush a little and ask questions about their accomplishments — everyone likes to feel flattered.

4. Bring business cards (yes, really)

In the age of social media, business cards feel particularly old-school. But they remain one of the most efficient ways to exchange contact information with recruiters, hiring managers, and other valuable connections. 

Yes, you could manually type in their email and number on your smartphone. But this is a clunky experience that wastes your time and theirs. Business cards tell people how to find you and are quick to exchange. You can even include a QR code on your LinkedIn profile.


5. Stay positive

A networking event isn’t a place to air out your grievances. If you have a problem with any past or current colleagues, keep it to yourself. If you routinely talk behind people’s backs, what’s stopping you from badmouthing your new connection? This is an easy way to sour a professional relationship before it starts.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

There’s no shame in asking for assistance — that’s why you’re here, after all. Professionals at business networking events expect to talk shop and lend a hand when needed. So, if you’re struggling with a certain part of your job, don’t be afraid to ask for career advice. 

Mention your career goals and ask the other person for thoughts on how to achieve them. You never know where the conversation could lead you.

7. Give as much as you get

You should also be open to lending a hand if you can. If you’re a seasoned professional, you have valuable experience to share with younger people in your industry. 

Even if you’re a student or an early-career professional, you can lean on your technical abilities and knowledge of recent trends. Your schooling might have taught you about trends or tools that are new to the industry that seasoned professionals are eager to hear about. Everyone benefits from sharing information they’ve recently learned.

8. Follow up with your new contacts

It’s one thing to meet; it’s another to keep the relationship going. Make sure to add your new connections on LinkedIn or exchange phone numbers. Then you can shoot them a message a couple of times a year when you think it’s appropriate. 

Try sending an article you think would interest them, inviting them to a professional event, or passing along a friendly note during the holidays. A little goes a long way when it comes to maintaining your connections.

9. Be confident, but not arrogant

Networking in business and other industries requires confidence without appearing cocky. Here are some things to remember when interacting with others:


  • Practice sincerity. Engage with the person you’re speaking to. They’re taking time out of their day to chat with you, so it’s important to be respectful and show interest.
  • Own your strengths. You’re good at a lot of things. It’s okay to mention them if it makes sense in the conversation — just make sure you’re not bragging too much. Stick to humble self-promotion.
  • Accept your limits. Humility will endear you to whoever you’re speaking with. Talking about your areas for improvement could lead to interesting learning opportunities down the road.

Networking isn’t all work

Professional meet-ups can be intimating. But they can also be an inspiring experience. You might reconnect with people you haven’t seen since pre-pandemic or discover a new friend who can support you in your career.

You don’t have to dread re-learning how to network. In fact, it’s a chance for you to have fun and meet people with shared interests. Go with an open mind, and you’ll leave with valuable knowledge, connections, and a renewed sense of confidence.

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Published October 12, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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